WOULD WE RIOT? PROBABLY NOT. WOULD WE BASH? QUITE POSSIBLY.
The violence in Afghanistan in response to the burning of a Koran by Pastor Terry Jones in Florida has been horrific. Reacting to this, Rusty Shackleford at My Pet Jawa addresses the following to the Afghan Taliban:
...I dare you: burn a Bible.
Do it publicly. Put in on the internet....
Not only will there be utter silence by President Obama, Sec. of State Clinton, or any other White House spokesperson .... but the media won't even cover the story.
Why? Because no one will care.
... None of us will give a damn.
It's the words in the book that are important, not the book....
At this point, I do think the media would cover it, as a sidebar to what's happening now. Would American Christians riot? Hard to imagine.
Would some Americans engage in bashing -- of vulnerable individuals, of small mosques? Yeah, probably.
It's hard to make an apples-to-apples comparison. Americans haven't been in a shooting war with Muslims on U.S. soil for nearly a decade (much as some right-wingers might feel otherwise). Americans aren't living in extreme poverty comparable to Afghanistan's; we have economic woes, but nobody is ascribing our economic troubles to Islam (yet).
Angry Christians and self-styled patriots in America don't riot much. Some of them do bash, however. They attack individuals and unprotected institutions. Recall the wave of attacks on individual Asian-Americans in the early 1990s, when a lot of white Americans thought "Japan, Inc." was responsible for taking all of our jobs.
Would leaders ever endorse violence? About a dozen years ago there was a Missouri state legislator named Sam Gaskill, a Vietnam veteran, who proposed making it legal to violently assault a flag-burner. That proposal didn't get very far -- but it was pre-9/11, and it was a long time before the Obama years, which have seen the Republican Party and the mainstream right embrace every form of conservative extremism without qualms.
We just don't have a proper test of whether Americans would respond to Bible-burnings or flag-burnings with violence. Here are some hypotheticals:
What if a '60s-style left became a real force in America, and that left were virulently anti-Christian? What if, while having a genuine impact on American politics, this new New Left were regularly burning Bibles? Do you really think the right would just shrug and say, "It's the words in the book that are important, not the book"?
What if we had a Republican president again, a new war against an Islamic state, and -- because the president was Republican -- a successful campaign to paint the domestic opponents of that war as the worst traitors? We lived through that under both Bushes -- but that was pre-Beck, pre-Pam Geller, pre-tea party. What if this president didn't say, as the Bushes said, that this wasn't a war against Islam? What if the president were named Palin or Bachmann or Cain? What would happen to American Muslims? What would happen to war critics?
I don't know that we can count in the future on our leaders urging calm and restraint. I don't know that we can count on them to distinguish the combatants overseas from people who look like them here, or seem to look like them, or seem to sympathize with them. We don't seem to do what's being done if Afghanistan, but I don't think that means we never will.